It isn’t a right if it’s compulsory

In the United States there are several rights codified in our Constitution. And one concept about rights many seem to forget is they are entirely voluntary. You have the choice of whether to exercise those rights. Once you take away the choice, it is no longer a right.

Yet such is the topic of a recent “Letter to the Editor” in the Los Angeles Times:

Columnist Jonah Goldberg’s fear of mandatory voting can be summed up in the belief that it would be “coerced speech” and therefore something contrary to America’s basic values.

That seems to ignore other coerced activities that the majority believes “promote the general welfare,” in the words of the preamble to the Constitution.

Does Goldberg hold that education should be voluntary? Does he oppose licensing drivers? Would he make jury duty a totally voluntary undertaking? Does he think all Americans would freely send in their taxes because they believe, as Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, they are the “price we pay for civilized society.”

Mandatory voting should be a requirement of citizenship like so many other duties we willingly perform for the greater good of our family, our neighbors and our compatriots. If voters don’t like the ballot choices, they can leave the boxes blank rather than stay home in a righteous funk.

Godfrey Harris, Encino

This also shows much the same logic I’ve seen out of a lot of people: a lot of other things are compulsory, so [insert thing I want compulsory] should be as well.

I also wonder if Mr Harris would also use the word “right” to describe education, despite pointing out herein that education is compulsory in the United States – up till you turn 16 or 17, depending on the State.

Let’s take the right of free speech. In an earlier article – okay, a much earlier article on this blog, I said the right includes “the right to express, [and the] right to withhold expressing”. And that you have the right to not speak is so sacred that police are required to inform you of it before interrogating you. And the government cannot compel you to say anything. (A lot of people try to counter with “oaths of office” here, but those are conditions on taking a job or appointment with the government, not something you are punished for not doing.)

I’ve said the same about the Second Amendment as well: that the right to keep and bear arms includes the right to choose whether you will do so. The government cannot compel you to own firearms, or any particular firearms or any particular quantities of ammunition. Nor can they restrict what firearms you can own (that they currently do does not mean it’s a legitimate exercise of power) or what quantities of ammunition.

The same with the right to vote. If you don’t have a choice in whether to vote, it isn’t a right. Doesn’t matter what justifications you can make to support your assertion. It stops being a right when it starts being mandatory.

Which is why I’ve said “parental rights” don’t exist:

[P]arent’s don’t actually have “rights”. Instead they have only responsibilities and duties to their children. They have some discretion in making decisions over how to care for their children, such as in determining meals and clothing styles, but only to the extent that it does not come into conflict with their duty to provide an adequate level of care for their children.

But let’s grant the proposal for a brief moment. That voting should be compulsory. What should be the penalty for noncompliance?

And Mr Harris’s idea of submitting a blank ballot is completely indistinguishable from abstaining in the end. So why waste the time submitting a blank ballot, which wastes time with processing as well (more so when talking about mail-in ballots), when outright abstaining is just more efficient all-around?